Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The danger of the paleo flirtation

The New Republic posted a second batch of Ron Paul newsletter excerpts yesterday. A number of people, myself included, expected them to be more damning than the previous batch. A number of people, myself not included, ended up concluding that they aren't. I'll get to why they are in a moment, but first some context:

Julian Sanchez and David Weigel of Reason explore the authorship questions some more. I'm not as interested in authorship per se as I was at first [1], but the article does lay out some historical timeline material that goes in directions I am interested in. Namely, it explores why one might or might not have expected to find this kind of stuff in "libertarian" publications of the time.

During the period when the most incendiary items appeared -- roughly 1989 to 1994 -- Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist "paleoconservatives," producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters recently unearthed by The New Republic.

This raises a serious question in my mind: "What the fuck were those guys thinking?"

Let me explain:

Although I began self-identifying as a libertarian in the early 1990s, I entered the libertarian movement from the paleoconservative side because that was where I found the opportunities to do so. My early movement involvements were with the militias and the Constitution Party (Aaron Russo's short-lived project, not the current abomination iteration). It took me less than a year to get deeply involved, recognize the racism, homophobia and other bizarre psychoses which permeated the "populist right wing" and the dangers those psychoses represented, and get the hell out of there (and I suspect that Russo was similarly motivated, although he cited his "Mad As Hell" project as the reason for his exit from the Constitution Party). By early 1996, I had gone over to ideological anarchism and politically to the Libertarian Party.

Less than a year for me to get shut of the "paleo" impulse. And for Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard? Much longer, if ever.

Now: I don't dispute the possibility that there might have been a point in time when the libertarian and paleoconservative ideological trains found themselves sharing a short section of political track. But that the putative heirs of Ludwig von Mises were possessed of such utter hubris as to attempt not only a long-term hitching together of those trains, but a fueling of the hypothetically resulting powerful locomotive with the worst material they could find ... well, that just creeps me out.

Now, to those newsletter excerpts. Why are the new ones even worse than the old ones?

The racism in the first batch of excerpts was explicit, but read just the right way it was possible -- barely possible, but possible nonetheless -- to write it off as a childish expression of rebellion against the excesses of identity politics and "political correctness." Yes, it was wrong and it was vile, but the possibility existed that we were seeing the results of poor judgment rather than of cold calculation.

In the newly released excerpts, that conclusion isn't available to us. These excerpts include:

- The second revealed instances of the newsletter lauding David Duke, and in a specifically racial context. The previous excerpt cited his "anti-establishment" cachet and wrote off racism as the important factor in his popularity. The new excerpt addresses Duke positively in a piece that refers to "the blacks" in vile collectivist terms multiple times. It's not plausible to write that off as mere coincidence.

- The first revealed instances of thes newsletter not only specifically and approvingly quoting/citing a publicly avowed "white separatist" (Jared Taylor) but offering subscription information for his magazine (American Renaissance) to the readers of the newsletter. This belies the possibilities mentioned in the previous paragraph as well. It bespeaks an informed interest in white identity politics rather than merely a knee-jerk reaction to black identity politics.

- The first revealed instance of the newsletter bemoaning not just the existence of black identity politics but the non-existence of a popular white equivalent. That the author subsequently quails from the obvious followup (a raised-hand chorus of "white power!") and instead segues to a stilted and weak-kneed plea that the reader work to preserve "western culture" makes it very clear that that author knew quite well what kind of fuse he was holding a match perilously close to ... and that he was resisting the urge to light it off.

These excerpts take the plausibility out of my hypothesis that this might have just been a case of a normal politician having temporarily fallen into some of the prejudices of a particular time and place, later to be embarrassed when that old failing was exposed. Rather, they point to a calculated intent to encourage and play on racist sentiments for political gain -- a plan that Rockwell and Rothbard had previously publicly advocated, a plan that was stump-stupid at best and indescribably evil at worst, and a plan that Ron Paul allowed to be (thankfully unsuccessfully) implemented in his name.

1. The authorship question is no longer of particular interest to me because Paul admitted to authoring at least some of the material, and defended it, in 1996, before denying authorship and repudiating the material from 2001 on. Apart from outing Paul as a liar at precisely the moment when he most needs to be perceived as honest, this establishes that Paul knew about, and was conversant with, the material in question. Ghosted or not, the material is Paul's baby.

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